Peter Ackroyd is a name synonymous with that of London. His books on the City are like no other, they breathe life into the history of England’s capital brushing cobwebs away from the musty, dusty recesses of memory. “London: The Biography” captures the essence of The City presenting it in all its varied forms; beautiful, baleful and brutal leaving the reader enthralled by the truth, the mystery and the myth. He leaves no stone unturned as he guides you down the alleys that Dickens walked, past the buildings that Wren, Hawksmoor and Nash designed; along the banks of the muddy Thames, across its bridges, behind its charnel houses, through its topiary and green spaces. It is, as books go, immaculate in its conception.
There are companion books too. “Thames: Sacred River” and “London Under” which bear the same hallmark of quality. "Thames: Sacred River" combines the mystical with the magnificent. Peter Ackroyd takes us from tributary to tidal waters. "London Under" reveals a tale of what lies beneath including the tunnels, labyrinthine and long, the hidden rivers running below the metropolis. Together the three make a supremely good, if not officially so, trilogy that surely sits in pride of place above all others published. No book shelf can be complete without them all - easy to read and informative.
It was these works of history that first caught my interest in Peter Ackroyd but I was soon to discover that he is far more than historian, far more than a 21st Century John Stow.
Peter Ackroyd was born in Acton, Middlesex on 5th October 1949. A scholarly child, Ackroyd showed his sharp mind at an early age moving with consummate ease through junior to senior level at St. Benedict’s, Ealing before going to Cambridge where he won a double first in English Literature. He was also a Mellon Fellow at Yale in the United States. It was clear to all when, at the age of twenty two, he wrote his first book which was published four years later. Since then he has gone on to write a staggering fifty one books. They are a nix of non-fiction, poetry and fiction.
"Hawksmoor" comes highly recommended, a novel that screws into the psyche pairing back the flesh of phobias, dipping your mind into the chill waters of nightmare. Metaphorical fingers claw a blackboard, their unnerving screech drives splinters into the story, disturbing the reader leaving them feeling dislocated. I don’t think I have ever read something so steeped in darkness, so twisted, so psychotic. His economy of style is what I admire the most. He doesn’t waste a word as he effortlessly leads you on with succinct descriptions coupled with flawless pacing.
I have yet to catch up with all his catalogue of work but it is a pleasant thought to have and comforting to know that whenever I pick up a book with Peter Ackroyd the quality of the read is assured.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.